Hardship Fund helps reduce digital isolation of region’s vulnerable

A national fund has seen 189 digital devices supplied to vulnerable or at-risk individuals and families across Dumfries and Galloway.

Recipients included those living with severe and enduring mental health issues, young adults living alone, all ages living with disabilities, as well as people identified as being vulnerable and being supported by social work.

Volunteer digital champions were also trained to give support on how to use the devices and get online.

The fund ran during the Covid-19 restrictions and prevented recipients from becoming digitally excluded and reduced isolation.

Uses included reconnecting with friends and family, discovering new clubs, and considering routes into education and employment to increase independence.

The Connecting Scotland Hardship Fund was led by Dumfries and Galloway Council with Third Sector Dumfries and Galloway (TSDG) responsible for administering the procurement of the devices and broadband contracts. 

It was funded by the Scottish Government via South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).

Norma Austin Hart, TSDG’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “We were delighted to play a part in procuring and distributing digital devices and connection contracts to people who are digitally excluded. We know that these made a real difference to those who were socially isolated during the pandemic and did not have access to the kit or contracts that are essential to connecting people with their families, services, jobs, and training.”

The money from SCVO purchased 93 iPads and 68 connectivity packages, given to 19 different third sector organisations for distribution to 93 individuals/families.

Funds from SOSE bought 78 iPads, one Chromebook, 16 Smartphones, and 74 connectivity packages. These were provided to the children and families social work services team for distribution to 96 individuals/families.

Kathy Cremin, Community Development Specialist at SOSE, said: “SOSE is delighted to see the impact of 2021 funding enabling TSDG to procure and distribute devices and digital services to 200 of the most vulnerable households in Dumfries and Galloway during COVID.

“Through this programme providing assets to individuals and vulnerable households, TSDG identified some key areas for improvement and have since undertaken to lead third sector partners in ground-breaking research to gather the experiences of 900 digitally excluded individuals in Dumfries and Galloway.

“SOSE was pleased to boost support for TSDG to carry out further work towards understanding digital inclusion, and alongside our South of Scotland partners look forward to the learning from the research.”

David McNeill, SCVO’s Director of Development, added: “Over the past few years, the internet has been essential to keeping us connected to friends and family, informed and entertained, and able to learn, work, shop and access public services.

“The work of partners in Dumfries and Galloway through this project has played an important role in tackling digital exclusion – getting people get online who might otherwise have missed out on all these opportunities.”

Councillor Andy Ferguson, chair of the Council’s Social Work committee, said: “I was delighted that the Council could make a significant contribution to reducing digital isolation for some of our region’s most vulnerable people, which was exacerbated by the necessary restrictions introduced during the Covid pandemic.”

Councillor Iain Howie, vice chair, said: “Increasingly, our world is one in which digital access is vital. This project provided a crucial lifeline during the period of increased isolation of the Covid pandemic.”

Picture: John Scott, Service Manager with Support in Mind Scotland in Dumfries, with service user Harley Milligan.